Each and every Spring since 2008 — my son’s kindergarten year — I have experienced déjà vu. Another school year almost complete. Another school year wasted. Another desperate need for the madness to end. You see, each and every school year I fight tooth and nail with teachers and administrators to understand that what looks like defiance, laziness, and a lack of motivation are actually part of his neurological disorders, ADHD and dysgraphia. And yet, nearly every year my knowledge of my son’s special needs is rejected as a mother’s love, and a momma’s wish for her child to do well.
This school year was no different. In fact, it was worse than any prior year except the fourth grade year Ricochet had Ms. Gulch — she still takes the cake, but it’s a photo-finish race. At least I had the understanding and backing of the school principal and the board’s behavior specialist that fourth grade year, although they never could force the teacher to implement in the classroom (you can read the details in Boy Without Instructions).
This school year, at the brand new middle and high charter school we chose to send him to, there isn’t one staff member on our side. Not. One! There isn’t one who has a mind open enough to accept that my kid is not willfully defiant, but simply needs their help. They kept his IEP from the mainstream public school last year, but interpret it in a how-little-can-we-get-away-with way. For instance, Ricochet has an accommodation for planning and organization that stipulates staff help. The teachers and school director say every teacher writes all assignments on the board and that is accommodating his needs. No. It’s. NOT! Ricochet has dysgraphia, which makes copying from other surfaces and ending up with something coherent and legible nearly impossible. They miss the entire point of the word “Individualized” in Individualized Educational Plan, which is what IEP stands for.
I have fought daily this year. Two weeks ago I just gave up. I give up every April. By then, if I haven’t broken down walls and convinced anyone of my son’s symptoms and struggles, it isn’t going to happen. So, instead of the continued anger and stress, I just say, “To hell with it, maybe next year.”
Sadly, since giving up two weeks ago, the school administration wrote up a Disciplinary Referral on Ricochet for some OCD-like anxious behavior, being stuck on the thought of going home and refusing to go back to class. Is it illegal for schools to punish behavior related to disability? Absolutely! But they do it all the time, and they did it to my kid last week. It’s heartbreaking, but I know at this point there’s nothing I can do about it.
I want to chalk this school up to a grand mistake (don’t ever take a special needs kid to a brand new school, especially one directed by an individual who has never worked in a school). Ricochet wants to stay because he has two friends at this school who show him compassion and understanding, which he’s never had before. In his mind, that outweighs being punished all the time for things he can’t help, but the scale is slowly shifting with every new incident of unfairness he endures. We are going to meet soon with the mainstream public 7th and 8th grade school he would go to next year if not the charter, and hope they sway him to want to attend their school over the hellish charter.
Only 36 more school days. We… can… do… it…
Do you experience advocacy burn-out in the Spring? What school fights have you had to give up?